The road forked ahead. That day, I felt like taking the other path into the forest—not the familiar one, that we usually took when we ran up to the mountain clearing to get a view of our campus, which lay sprawled at the foot of the hills.
This path had always existed, as far as I had known. It had always stood there, mysterious and enticing, but always remote. Until that day, it had never occurred, to me, that I would ever venture into the other side of the hills, on my own, alone, one fine day.
Driven by my sense of adventure, my ten-year-old self eagerly shrugged off all hesitations and set off to “explore” whatever lay ahead. You could say, it was the first time that I had prodded myself to set foot into the unknown.
I walked through the dense overgrowth along the jungle route, for close to ten minutes or maybe more. At one point, I remember the path became extremely narrow, with the thorns and damp leaves brushing against my face and my elbows. The further I walked, the darker it got, and suddenly I was hit by an overpowering smell in my nostrils—that unmistakable smell of the forest.
An eerie silence fell around me. The ground was soggy and strewn with leaves and rocks. The first sound I could hear was the rustling of the leaves and the gentle refrain of a stream, not too far away. Then I noticed how the stillness of the forest was broken by the chatterings of birds and insects of myriad kinds. The crickets were the loudest of them all.
A wave of fear came over me. A passing thought froze me in my tracks—What if there was a wild animal close by?
Just then, I came upon a clearing—a patch of land, which opened out into the open blue sky. There was ample light here and traces of discarded firewood meant it must have been an abandoned picnic spot. There were huge boulders on the sides, which must have made for seating areas.
I promptly went and sat on one of them, gazing at the stunning views of the lush Aradhura hills, before me and a fabulous birds’ eye view of the college campus, where we lived.
It was an unbelievable sight. As far as my eyes could see, there were layers of gently rolling hills, the dark emerald hues slowly fading into muted greys in the distance.
To me, there was no better way to feel one with Nature, seated atop that giant boulder, by the edge of the hill, alone, away from home, as if nothing else mattered.
It was at that point, that I noticed something emerging right from the ground—a thick layer of smoke billowing upwards, rising in slow circles, sweeping across the red rooftops of the government quarters below.
The giant pines by the sides of the serpentine roads were no longer visible now.
Gradually, the road too began to disappear while the furiously churning smoke spread all around, covering every bit of the campus below until nothing was visible.
By now, fear gripped me. My spine tingled with a sense of dread. What if I never found my way back home?. Mom and dad would have thought that I had gone to my friends’ place to play. Who would ever know that I had ventured out this far, alone?
But then, sometimes, with crisis comes revelation. Almost instinctively, I realised that I would have to find my way back home. Nobody would do it for me, If I had dared to come this far, I’d have to have the daring to push past my fears and make my exit from here too.
Thankfully, the self-talk worked. I worked out the logic that if I didn’t dare, I’d be missing out on many things in life. Being brave didn’t mean that one wasn’t going to be scared. It only meant that one was ready to face one’s fears and do what had to be done.
I stood there, partly scared and partly elated, feeling a little victorious at my own daring. The rush of adrenaline, after having realised that I had fought my fears, was enough to get me charged up for many more such escapades in the years to come. Not every escapade would lead me to a forest, but, they would throw me into situations that would push me to get out of my comfort zone and face up to the uncertainties of life.
So, eventually, I did make my way home, that day, and safely too, albeit, with quite a few scratches and plenty of prickly thorns stuck on my dress, that would certainly have made mom wonder what I had been up to.
I often look back upon that adventurous day, whenever childhood memories take me back to our home in the hills.
Written as part of our #SoulfulSunday freewriting exercise—along with Vinitha, Shilpa and Anamika.